As students everywhere climb towards the end of the semester, overwhelmed with exams and projects, some will resort to self-defeating methods to get the job done.
Stimulant drugs such as Adderall and Vyvanse, prescribed to patients with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), will find their way into the hands of college students looking for a competitive edge or a simple energy boost.
About 31% of college students said they had taken prescription stimulants for non-medical purposes at some point to help them perform in school, according to a report by the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
Non-medical use includes excessive or inconsistent doses taken by patients with prescriptions, as well as illicit methods of consumption such as snorting or injection. The study also suggests that only about 5% of college students actually have prescriptions for ADHD medication.
Hanna Lawhorn, 19, is a freshman majoring in sociology and international studies and suffers from ADHD. She tried a host of medications and struggled with their side effects. However, she recognizes a performance gain.
“I felt more motivated to want to do all my work and be prepared,” Lawhorn said of her experience with Adderall, a chemical cousin of the street drug crystal meth.
Although the similarity between prescription drugs for ADHD and dangerous street drugs is common knowledge, students aware of the risks still opt for the help of medication when the stress is too much.
Lawhorn describes the coming weeks as “that time in the semester when there really isn’t a day off.”
For decades, people have turned to amphetamines in hopes of improving their performance. During World War II, Allied and Axis Power countries gave soldiers and pilots amphetamines to keep them awake during long missions.
After further research concluded that stimulant use carried a high risk of addiction, the US government began regulating amphetamines under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, and milder stimulants replaced them in most medical applications.
Diagnoses of attention disorders became more common, especially in children, in the early 1990s. What followed was a wave of prescriptions for Ritalin: a drug first synthesized in the 1950s, which remains the most popular medication for ADHD.
However, it was not until the introduction of Adderall in 1996 that the rate of diagnosis began to increase. According to the Center for Disease Control, ADHD diagnosis rates increased an average of three percent each year from 1997 to 2006 and about five percent from 2003 to 2011.
These rates continue to rise. One block of the working-age population that has become an enclave for stimulant abuse, however, is the professional gambling world.
Much like athletes who take steroids to increase their physical performance, professional gamers are drawn to stimulants for mental alertness and quick response times during play.
The phenomenon of stimulant abuse among eSports gamers led the Electronic Sports League to begin cracking down on the issue earlier this year.